Off the Spinner Rack: April 1981

This week I decided to take another trip down comic book memory lane via the Newsstand Time Machine at Mike’s Amazing World of Comics and look up which comics we had bought (and missed out on) during a particular month of our prime collecting years of the late 70’s to mid 80’s.  Rather than using my usual 30 year benchmark I picked a year at random and decided on a look back at the comics that went on sale in April 1981.  I narrowed it down to the following purchases:

Moon Knight #9
Written by Doug Moench, art by Bill Sienkiewicz

Moon Knight #9

The Uncanny X-Men #147
Written by Chris Claremont, art by Dave Cockrum and Josef Rubinstein

Uncanny X-Men #147

What If #27
Written by Mary Jo Duffy, art by Jerry Bingham and John Stuart

What If #27

Iron Man #148
Written by David Michelinie, art by John Romita Jr. and Bob Layton

Iron Man #148

Star Wars #49
Written by Mike W. Barr, art by Walter Simonson and Tom Palmer

Star Wars #49

Not surprisingly, our purchases (totalling $2.75) were entirely Marvel.  But I am surprised at how few comics we bought off the spinner rack that month.  I wasn’t reading Amazing Spider-Man or Captain America at that point, though those titles and Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man would soon be consistent purchases.  Of the issues listed above, What If? #27 was and still is a particular favorite (see my earlier post revisiting this issue).  Each of these issues were part of memorable runs that I still reach into the old box o’ comics to read time and again, particularly Claremont/Cockrum/Rubinstein’s run on Uncanny X-Men.  I’ll still take these stories over most of the comics published today.

Missed Comics:

Fantastic Four #232
Story and art by John Byrne

Fantastic Four #232

Daredevil #173
Written by Frank Miller, art by Frank Miller and Klaus Janson

Daredevil 173

These two missed issues were a surprise to me.  Byrne’s run on FF and Miller/Janson’s on Daredevil are still favorites of mine from that era, and I’m still not sure why we hadn’t picked up these two issues off the spinner rack back in April 1981 or as back issues over the last 30 odd years (I finally read FF #232 in its original form in IDW’s John Byrne Artist Edition).  They’re now high on my list of books to seek out and buy at the New York based conventions this year, along with several other titles available that month such as Amazing Spider-Man, Captain America, New Teen Titans, Jonah Hex and Warlord.

When I cut back significantly on buying comics over the last year, I wondered if that was pretty much the end of collecting for me.  But discovering what I missed out on over the years has lit the fire in me to keep collecting (even if they are primarily back issues), complete runs started way back when, and start a few more along the way.

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Warriors Five (1962)

Warriors Five movie Poster

Release Date: September 28, 1962
Starring: Jack Palance, Giovanna Ralli, Serge Reggiani, Folco Lulli, Venantino Vanantini, Franco Balducci, Miha Baloh
Directed by Leopoldo Savona; Screenplay by Gino De Santis, Ugo Pirro, Leopoldo Savona

One of my favorite genres of cinema has always been the combat film, primarily the films set in World War II such as The Big Red One, Sahara, and Saving Private Ryan.

It started for me back in the late 70’s, when Saturday afternoons would include at least one or two black and white combat films from the 40s and 50s on the local channels here in New York.  Most of them were set in the Pacific, with plots that usually involved a group of grizzly soldiers on a mission or defending their ground against impossible odds.  I must have watched hundreds of those now forgotten films back then, and while I don’t remember most of the titles, I still have a soft spot for the B combat films.

So when I was browsing the selection of films on Amazon Prime this past week, one that stood out was the 1962 World War II film Warrior’s Five starring Jack Palance.  American paratrooper Jack (played by Palance), on a mission to blow up a bridge, has been captured behind enemy lines in German occupied Italy and is held by the Italians in a military prison north of Naples.  He doesn’t crack under their interrogation and is about to be transferred to the Germans (and a more intense methods of interrogation) when they receive word that Italy has signed an unconditional surrender to the Allies.  As the Italian prisoners storm out of the prison, the commandant simply opens the gate and lets Jack walk free.

A group of five Italian prisoners, led by the sticky fingered Sergeant Marzi (Folco Lulli) plan to make their way to Naples and the protection of the Americans.  They ditch their uniforms and hawk a stolen cannon to for a few lire and second hand suits to start their journey.

But despite the armistice, the German army still controls the area.  And as Jack heads to his radio and weapons stash to relay his position to the American army, Marzi and his four Italian cohorts (Alberto, Libero, Conti and Sansone) fight the crowd at the local railroad station and hop a train to Naples and the protection of the Allied soldiers.  Shortly after the the train pulls out of the station, a group of women led by the strong willed and not shy about it Italia (played by Giovanna Ralli) use their charm stop the train in the middle of the countryside and hitch a ride.  It seems like it will be an uneventful journey, until one of the women convinces the conductor to stop the train along a vineyard so the starving passengers can eat the grapes.  As they tear apart a poor family’s vineyard, three armed German soldiers appear.  Despite being armed with machine guns, the scared young German soldiers are overpowered by the mob and killed.

When a squad of German soldiers discovers the dead bodies, they set a trap for the train at the upcoming railway station and arrest all of the passengers.  Marzi anticipates the trap, and the five Italian prisoners and Italia sneak away through a tunnel.  While resting at a stream, they spot one of Jack’s empty ration cans and track him down.  Along their way to the American line they reach a minefield with two dead paratroopers.  Marzi and Alberto brave the minefield to scavenge their supplies, but the fragile Conti has had enough and runs off to his hometown.

Jack, Italia and the remaining four warriors hole up at a nearby farm.  Jack recruits Alberto (and pays Marzi) to help him blow up the Galliano bridge to slow down the German drive toward the allies at Anzio.  But when they learn that Conti’s hometown of Altano is being held hostage by German soldiers hell bent on finding the American behind their lines, even if it means killing innocent local men, Jack, Alberto, Marzi, Libero and Sansone take their guns in an attempt to liberate Altano.

Some versions of the movie poster have a grindhouse quality with actress Giovanna Ralli taking up more space than lead actor Jack Palance, which takes away from the fact that Warriors Five is less an action film than a drama about the effect of World War II on the Italian population.  With a steely eyed leading man (Palance), strong willed leading lady and a small band of vagabonds in a war torn country, this is exactly the type of movie Quentin Tarantino would have remade.  Thankfully he didn’t, because it’s the simplicity of Warrior’s Five that makes this an enjoyable film (as was the original Inglorious Bastards), and a remake wouldn’t have had the grit, only caricature.

Warriors Five isn’t a classic, but the story still packs a punch with the human drama of life in German occupied Italy and the gravity of the warriors’ impromptu mission.  The film’s score is a bit uneven, and at times unable to successfully transition between the dramatic and the lighthearted.  Despite the low budget, director Leopoldo Savona utilizes a strong cast and the Italian countryside to create a hard hitting war drama that balances action with empathy for the disillusioned Italian prisoners of war randomly brought together for a noble cause in their war ravaged homeland.

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Irwin Hasen (1918-2015)

I was saddened by the news of cartoonist Irwin Hasen’s passing at the age of 96 today.  He was best known for co-creating (with Don Edson) the newspaper comic strip Dondi which ran from 1955 to 1986, and for his work on characters like The Green Lantern, Wonder Woman and The Flash during the Golden Age of comic books.  Well into his 90’s he was a fixture at the New York based comic conventions, sketching for fans and sharing stories about his career.  Back in September 2014 Irwin was honored at the Society of Illustrators with a screening of a documentary on his life and career, Irwin: A New York Story by director Dan Makara, and in October 2014 he received an Eisner Award at the New York Comic Con.

The first comic con I ever attended was the 2004 Big Apple Con in New York.  Before the show, I had looked up the guest list and put together a list of sketches and autographs I hoped to acquire.  When I had looked up Irwin’s body of work, I knew that I had to get a sketch of the Golden Age Green Lantern from the artist that drew him back in the 40’s.  Of my entire collection of art over the last decade, Irwin’s drawing of Alan Scott was the first I had ever acquired, and the memory of that moment still stands out.

He was sitting at his table covered with prints of his drawings of Wildcat (which he co-created with writer Bill Finger), The Flash and Wonder Woman.  I asked if he was sketching that day and he said “Sure!  What character do you want?” and quoted his price for a pencil and inked black and white sketch, and the price for one with color.  I requested a black and white drawing of Alan Scott as the Green Lantern and he began drawing him in a classic Golden Age pose, marching forward with his power ring leading the way.

I’ve always been a fan of comic book art, and this convention was the first time I was able to see artists in action drawing their characters, so I was fascinated by the process.  Irwin finished the drawing and looked up to see me smiling like a kid at my first convention sketch.  He paused for a second, smiled, and broke out his markers to color it.  I was about to pay the extra amount for the color, but he waved his hand as if to say “Nah, the color’s on me.”  That’s still my favorite comic con memory.

Irwin Hasen - Green Lantern

 

 

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The Captain America Project #19: Bob McLeod

The Captain America Project: 20 artists, 20 drawings of Captain America on one page.

#19: Bob McLeod (The New Mutants, The Amazing Spider-Man, The Spectacular Spider-Man, Action Comics)

The Captain America Project is winding down, and the 19th spot on this jam page was filled during the 2014 New York Comic Con by one of my favorite artists, Bob McLeod.

Captain America - Bob McLeod

I’ve been a fan of his work since Marvel Graphic Novel #4 (The New Mutants) and in addition to his pencils and inks on Marvel and DC titles like The Amazing Spider-Man and Action Comics, his art in The Uncanny X-Men #152 (and that issue’s fantastic cover) still stands out as a favorite of mine in the middle of Dave Cockrum’s second run on the title back in 1981.

So there’s one spot left on the page, and I have one particular artist in mind for the 20th spot.  It’s been over four years since I started The Captain America Project, and I’m looking forward to finally completing it this year.  I’m going to attend three New York based comic conventions in the next several months, so hopefully I’ll have the final spot filled by then and I can finally have this amazing page framed and on my wall.

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Runaway Train (1985)

Runaway Train Movie Poster

Release Date: December 6, 1985
Starring: John Voight, Eric Roberts, Rebecca DeMornay, John P. Ryan, Kenneth McMillan, T.K. Carter, Kyle T. Heffner
Directed by Andrey Konchalovskiey; Screenplay by Djordje Milicevic, Paul Zindel and Edward Bunker based on a screenplay by Akira Kurosawa

Some movies are meant to be watched during the winter months.  John Carpenter’s classic 1982 horror film The Thing is the first one that comes to mind.  And with a snowstorm working its way through New York last night, I was looking for a film that suited my environment.  One that stuck out on Netflix was the 1985 drama Runaway Train starring Jon Voight (Midnight Cowboy, Coming Home), Eric Roberts (Star 80, The Pope of Greenwich Village) and Rebecca DeMornay (Risky Business, The Hand That Rocks the Cradle).  Here’s a film that I vividly remember not seeing when it was released in theaters and subsequently on cable back in the 80’s.  I still don’t understand why I let this movie slip through the cracks since it had the elements of a hard hitting drama and a solid cast that would have been more than enough to get me to screen it at least once back then.  Luckily for me it’s currently available on both Netflix and Amazon Prime, so better late than never.

The story begins at Alaska’s maximum security Stonehaven Prison, where according to assistant warden Ranken (played by John P. Ryan) the average sentence is 22 years.  Ranken has a particularly sadistic streak for hardened inmate Manny Manheim (Voight), keeping him welded shut in his cell for three years after several previous escape attempts.  When Ranken is ordered by a Federal court to allow him out of his cell, Manny makes the most of the opportunity and plans a new escape with his brother Jonah.  Ranken fully expects Manny to make another attempt over the wall, and welcomes the opportunity so he can finally take Manny out permanently.  During a prison boxing match, an inmate attacks Manny with a knife as Ranken stands in the rafters with a guard ready to shoot, but Manny sees through his game and eggs Ranken on to take his best shot.  Jonah is injured defending Manny and ends up in the prison hospital, unable to make the escape.

Fellow inmate and former boxer Buck McGeehy (Eric Roberts) helps Manny slip by the guards by hiding him in a laundry cart, and decides to join Manny in his escape.  From the outset, the older, wiser Manny has to deal with the raw, impulsive Buck.  They work their way out the prison through the sewer, but it’s the dead of winter and they have to run several miles to a rail depot in order to hop a train to freedom.  While raiding an employee locker room for warmer clothes, Buck leaves his prison shirt (with inmate number) behind.  While this oversight is more than enough to get Ranken on their tails, they have another twist of fate in store for them.  Manny picks the best looking train of the lot, and they hop on to the rear car to hide.  But as the train departs, the conductor suffers a fatal heart attack, leaving Manny and Buck completely unaware they are on a death ride.

The railroad company’s dispatch office is notified of the runaway train and dispatchers Frank Barstow (Kyle T. Heffner) and Dave Prince (T.K. Carter) attempt to stop the train through their computer system.  But the brakes have burned off and the train, which has just collided with the caboose of an oncoming train, is accelerating toward a chemical plant.  They are ordered by company representative Eddie McDonald (played by Kenneth McMillan) to derail the train, unaware that anyone is on board.  As the train approaches the derailment point, someone on board sounds the horn and the company is forced to get the train back on the main railroad line.  Sara (Rebecca deMornay), a railroad employee, was napping on the train and woke up to realize the conductor had overridden the brake system and they are on course for a collision.  But danger also lurks behind them as Ranken is hot on Manny and Buck’s trail.

No spoilers here.  This is a great movie and deserved the acclaim it received, particularly the Academy Award nominations for Voight (Best Actor) and Roberts (Best Supporting Actor).  Voight brings out his inner Charles Bronson as Manny, and the dynamic between his character and Roberts’ Buck is the glue that binds the action sequences so the film isn’t just a non-stop adrenaline rush.  Manny not only keeps Buck in check from the moment they escape Stonehaven, but also tries to beat some sense into him so he doesn’t get caught later on down the road.  This monologue is the perfect example of the generation gap between them:

The supporting cast also makes the film more than an action movie.  Kenneth McMillan (Ragtime, The Pope of Greenwich Village), one of my favorite character actors of all time, is fun to watch as the stressed out company representative Eddie MacDonald; Rebecca DeMornay’s character Sara is a departure from her more famous roles in Risky Business and The Hand that Rocks the Cradle and holds her own against two escaped convicts; but John P. Ryan’s performance as Ranken stole the movie and added a hunter/hunted dynamic to the story that reminds the audience of the danger that is waiting for Manny and Buck even if they make it off the train alive.  Concidentally, the scenes of Ranken giving chase reminded me of the character Kraven the Hunter from The Amazing Spider-Man comic books.

I definitely won’t let another 30 years go by before enjoying Runaway Train again, and will include it on my list of winter films going forward.

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Off the Spinner Rack: January 1985

Lately I’ve been looking back on the comic book runs that hooked me during the 1980s.  Back then my brother and I would visit our local comic shop every Saturday and plunk down a few bucks for the latest issues of The Uncanny X-Men, The Fantastic Four and Thor among other (mainly) Marvel titles (by the mid-80’s there would also be a few independent titles in the mix).  I recently opened up the old box o’comics and wondered how many comics I would have bought on a month to month basis during my prime years of collecting.

I recently discovered the fantastic Newsstand Time Machine at Mike’s Amazing World of Comics, a comic book database that allows visitors to search for the titles that were on sale during a particular month and year.  I figured I would use my usual 30 year benchmark to look back, and I was able to track down our exact comic book purchases for January 1985:

Alien Legion 6 Cover
Alien Legion
#6

Alpha Flight 21 Cover Alpha Flight 22 Cover
Alpha Flight #21 and #22

Doctor Strange 70 Cover
Doctor Strange #70


Fantastic Four #277

Groo The Wanderer 2 CoverGroo The Wanderer 3 Cover
Groo the Wanderer #2 and #3

New Mutants 27
The New Mutants #27

Thor 354 Cover
Thor #354

Uncanny X-Men 192 Cover
Uncanny X-Men #192

Void Indigo 2 Cover
Void Indigo #2

Looking back on this list, the titles we bought that month aren’t surprising.  At that point in our comic collecting we were primarily Marvel readers, with only sporadic purchases of DC titles.  Alpha Flight, Doctor Strange, Fantastic Four, Thor and The Uncanny X-Men were consistent favorites of ours for several years and would make up the bulk of our comic book collection.  Bill Sienkiewicz’s art got me hooked for a second time on The New Mutants, and Groo the Wanderer by Mark Evanier and Sergio Aragones would become a new favorite over the next twenty or so issues in 1985-1986.

Missed comics:

Cerebus 70 Cover
Cerebus
#70

Crisis On Infinite Earths 1
Crisis on Infinite Earths #1

Jon Sable Cover 24
Jon Sable Freelance #24

Dave Sim’s Cerebus and Mike Grell’s Jon Sable Freelance were also consistent purchases for us, but that month’s issues sold out at our local comic shop before we could buy them.  Crisis on Infinite Earths #1 was a flat out miss on our part and that’s one I regret not picking up back then.

January 1985’s purchases added up to a whopping $9.05 for ten comic books ($19.86 today adjusted for inflation).  The same number of comic books today would run me about $44.  In my opinion we got better art and more story/character development per issue for a fraction of the price back then, and it’s no coincidence that my comic book purchases over the last year or so have been mainly back issues.  Sure they cost a few bucks more nowadays, but I enjoy the feeling of nostalgia I get when I find a back issue from the 80’s that I missed the first time on the spinner rack.  In a way I’m glad we missed a few issues back then.

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Star Wars VII: A Fan’s Hope

This week’s release of the teaser trailer of J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens brought back a feeling of excitement I haven’t felt as a Star Wars fan since the early 80’s.  There’s something about the years between 1977 and 1983 that gave the fans of the franchise a sense of anticipation that didn’t include the skepticism and disappointment we received with George Lucas’s prequels.  In the years leading up to The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, there was always the sense of optimism for an upcoming sequel, as if we knew all along that the next film would be even better than the last.  At no point did we ever walk into the theater thinking we would walk out disappointed, like man fans did between the years of 1999 and 2005.

I was skeptical when J.J. Abrams was named director of Star Wars VII.  Don’t get me wrong, he’s a very talented director and I thoroughly enjoyed his reboot of Star Trek.  But as much as I was relieved that George Lucas wouldn’t be adding another layer of disappointment to the franchise, I was concerned at how a director that grew up a fan of the Star Wars franchise might either go fanboy and rehash what he loved about the original films (much like Bryan Singer’s homage to Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie with 2006’s Superman Returns) or try to make it his own by deviating too much from the original canon.  The jury is still out on The Force Awakens until December 2015, but after seeing the first teaser trailer this week I’m feeling that sense of optimism that’s been missing for 30 years.

And it started with the opening shot.

John Boyega as a stormtrooper on what looks like Tatooine gives me hope that the stormtroopers in The Force Awakens are no longer clones.  Growing up watching the original trilogy and reading Marvel’s Star Wars comics throughout the 80’s, I always saw the stormtroopers as recruits from throughout the galaxy.  Abrams including a storyline in The Force Awakens from the perspective of a stormtrooper is a fantastic plot device that will add a dimension that was never seen in a previous Star Wars film: a level of humanity to the footsoldiers of the Empire rather than showing them as the soulless clones that were really no more than blaster fodder.

Lawrence Kasdan’s involvement in the script gave me hope that the story (and especially the dialogue) will be an improvement over the prequels.  I’ve always felt that his screenplay with Leigh Brackett made The Empire Strikes Back the best of all the Star Wars films.  His a familiar voice is what is needed the most now that Luke, Han and Leia are (finally!) back.

I’ve always been more of a fan of the old school special effects techniques that were used in the original Star Wars films (models, matte paintings that were actually painted, etc.), and the over use of CGI over the last 15 years has tended to detach me from a story since the effects and digital matte paintings look more like video games than realistic settings.  In my opinion, the old models of the Death Star, AT-ATs, etc. that were photographed (on film) for the original trilogy still look better.  But seeing the X-Wing Fighters and the Millenium Falcon (finally!) streaking across the screen again made me forget my usual rant against the overuse of CGI, and I intend to go into my screening of The Force Awakens with an open mind to enjoy it for what it is.

But there was something else about the sequences shown in the teaser trailer that gave me a sense of comfort and even nostalgia: the sound effects.  Anthony Daniels’ C3-PO and Kenny Baker’s R2-D2 were the characters that bridged all six of the previous films together.  John Williams’ musical scores were the foundation of each film that (especially the during the prequels) brought back the emotions we felt the first time we watched Episode IV.  But watching the teaser trailer made me realize how much the sound effects have also bound the films together over the last 34 years.  We instantly recognize the sound of a lightsaber firing up, and the beautiful simplicity of the the sound of a blaster shot.  X-Wings and TIE Fighters have that familiar scream as they streak across the screen.  It’s not just the characters, effects and the universe created by George Lucas that brings us back to the theaters with each sequel, it’s also the sense of familiarity and nostalgia that brings us back.  It doesn’t matter how disappointed many fans were with the prequels (myself included), we keep coming back because we want more Star Wars.  And Abrams’s trailer for The Force Awakens brought back the same feeling and excitement I had as 11 year old kid in 1983 waiting on line for Return of the Jedi.

I’m in.

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The Captain America Project #18: Lee Weeks

The Captain America Project: 20 artists, 20 drawings of Captain America on one page.

#18: Lee Weeks (Daredevil, Gambit, Daredevil: Dark Nights)

One of my goals at the 2014 New York Comic Con was to wrap up the Captain America project.  With three spots left on the page, I had made my list of final “must have” artists to complete it.  My first stop at NYCC that Sunday morning was Lee Weeks’ table.

I’ve been a fan of Lee’s work for years and really enjoyed his three issue run on Daredevil: Dark Nights (#1-3).  He did a great job on this Cap sketch, and it’s a fantastic addition to the page.

Captain America - Lee Weeks

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NYCC 2014: From Albuquerque to Artist Alley in Record Time

NYCC 2014 2

Since the first show in 2006, the New York Comic Con is the comic book related event that I look forward to the most each year.   I still can’t believe that only eight years ago it started as a one room event that took up a fraction of the Jacob Javits Center.  And while I tend to complain about the crowds in the exhibit hall each year, I am very happy that the show has grown in popularity into one of the premiere comic book conventions with an attendance (over 151,000 attendees) that has now surpassed the San Diego Comic Con.

I’ll admit I don’t take as full advantage of the show as most of the attendees do.  I don’t cosplay (though I am tempted to break out the stormtrooper armor each year), and I avoid the larger panels for the less crowded sessions, but that’s because I choose to maximize my time in Artist Alley to meet the creators that have written and drawn my favorite stories of the last four decades.  This year was no different but that was because I had less time at NYCC than previous years.  My faithful sidekick and I had set up a two week vacation in Arizona and New Mexico that overlapped the first three days of NYCC and I didn’t think I would be able to attend this year.  But when I found out we were flying the red eye from Albuquerque to JFK I knew that I could make the last day of the show.

While I may have missed New York Super Week and the first three days of NYCC, I made up for it by buying some comic related merchandise during our stop in Albuquerque.  First stop was the amazing Astro-Zombies comic shop where I got a great deal on copies of X-Men #90 and Fantastic Four #92.  I also found Days of Future Past HeroClix that sold out at my New York comic and game shops (Storm, Blob, Pyro and a Sentinel!).  If you’re ever in Albuquerque, I highly recommend a visit to Astro-Zombies.  They have a great selection of new and back issues and a friendly staff.  I also picked up a few Marvel Comics themed wall decorations at a local art store on sale.  Buying these items that I would have picked up at NYCC softened the blow of not attending the first three days (and probably saved me a few bucks!).  Heck, even the Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta had a con feel with a huge crowd and members of the local chapter of the 501st Legion in attendance as the Darth Vader and Yoda hot air balloons ascended!

The 501st Legion at the 2014 Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta (image copyright 2014 Fante's Inferno)

The 501st Legion at the 2014 Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta (image copyright 2014 Fante’s Inferno)

ABQ 2

Stormtroopers prepare the crowd for Yoda at the 2014 Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta

Yoda prepares for liftoff at the 2014 Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta

Yoda prepares for liftoff at the 2014 Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta

ABQ 3

Darth Vader gets ready for the mass ascension at the 2014 Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta (image copyright 2014 Fante’s Inferno)

But no sooner than I had gotten home from JFK Sunday morning, I was pulling together every book I wanted autographed, my sketch book for commissions, and of course The Captain America Project to (hopefully) complete.  I arrived at the Javits Center around 9:15 that morning, and I was surprised to not see a crowd gathered in front.  But reality soon set in when I realized the thousands of attendees were lined up in the lower level of the convention center prior to the 10:00 start time.  Overall it was a good system, and even though I was towards the back of the line I made it into Artist Alley by about 10:15.  Thankfully most of the attendees were heading to the exhibit hall and Artist Alley was practically empty when I walked in.

My top priority at NYCC was completing the Captain America Project: a jam page of 20 drawings of Captain America by 20 different artists.  After four years, 17 of the 20 spots on my Captain America jam page had been filled by artists like Jim Lee, David Finch, Herb Trimpe and even Golden Age artist Allen Bellman.  I had put a lot of thought into which artists I wanted to finish the page, and even though there were more artists to choose from than spots available on the page, I decided they would be filled by three of my favorite artists of the last 30 years.  My first two stops were Lee Weeks’ and Bob McLeod’s tables.

Weeks’ art has been a favorite of mine over the last ten years, most recently his work on Daredevil: Dark Nights #1-3, and I’ve been a huge fan of Bob McLeod’s work since the early 80’s, particularly his run on The New Mutants.  So as long time fans of their work, they were “must haves” on The Captain America Project.  I had originally planned on posting scans of their Cap sketches in this post, but then I realized they would be major spoilers of their individual posts for The Captain America Project, so I decided to hold off.  But in the meantime, here are a couple of pictures of them sketching on the page:

NYCC 2014 4

Bob McLeod adds a Captain America sketch to the Captain America Project

NYCC 2014 3

Artist Lee Weeks adds a Captain America sketch to the Captain America Project.

Unfortunately, the third artist that I was hoping would cap off the page (pun intended) wasn’t able to attend Sunday, so I’ll keep that one a surprise until I’m able to get that sketch at a future show.

After collecting autographs from artists Rob Liefeld, Allen Bellman, Howard Chaykin and former Marvel writer/artist/editor Al Milgrom for my copy of Marvel: Five Fabulous Decades of the World’s Greatest Comics, my last stop of the afternoon was The Artists’ Choice table for a sketch from artist Jerry Ordway (Superman).  Going into the show, one of the items on my wish list was a full sized sketch of Superman from Ordway, and he didn’t disappoint with this gem:

IMG_3072

Superman by Jerry Ordway

IMG_3071

Artist Jerry Ordway and his Superman sketch.

I had every intention of staying until the end of the show to hit the exhibit hall and get a few more sketches, but by 3:00 I realized that I hadn’t slept in over 30 hours (maybe that’s a con endurance record?) and it was time to head home before I passed out and the attendees swiped my sketches.  But this year’s NYCC was definitely worth the red eye flight and sleep deprivation.  Looking forward to next year!

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What If Phoenix Had Not Died? (1981)

What If 27 Cover

The early 80’s were my prime years of comic book collecting, and Marvel’s What If? was one of my favorite titles.  Each issue introduced by The Watcher would present an alternate history of Marvel characters based on one twist of fate in a previously established storyline.  There were some fantastic issues of What If? from 1981-1982, particularly What If Daredevil Became an Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.? (#28, August 1981), What If Wolverine Had Killed the Hulk? (#31, February 1982), What If Elektra Had Lived? (#35, October 1982), and What If The Fantastic Four Had Not Gained Their Powers? (#36, December 1982).  I recently reached into the old box o’ comics and found one that stood out as one of my favorite issues of What If’s early 80’s run, and a story that truly stood out for me that entire decade: What If Phoenix Had Not Died? (#27, July 1981) written by Mary Jo Duffy with art by penciller Jerry Bingham and inker John Stuart.

We bought our copy of What If? #27 new off of the spinner rack at our comic shop back in 1981.  Frank Miller’s dynamic cover stood out among most other comics released that month, with his bold line work and the intense colors capturing Phoenix’s power while flanked by the helpless X-Men.

One of the reasons this story resonated with me was  because less than a year earlier Jean Grey/Phoenix was killed off in Chris Claremont, John Byrne and Terry Austin’s classic X-Men #137 (Vol. 1, Sept. 1980).  As I read that issue for the first time back in 1980, I held up hope that the X-Men would prevail in their battle with the Imperial Guard.  But as their epic battle ended with each member of the X-Men taken down in defeat, Jean’s death was even more shocking.  At that young of an age, I couldn’t understand how the folks at Marvel could have ended the story with the X-Men losing and a main character actually dying.  The only other comic book story to have that big of an impact on me was the death of Elektra in Daredevil #181 (April 1982), but unfortunately as I got older I became more jaded and skeptical with every Marvel character’s death and subsequent return.  That story in X-Men #137 got me more emotionally involved as a reader and fan of the X-Men, as Cyclops and the rest of the team came to terms with Jean’s death and dealt with their own issues as the decade went on.  To this day, I consider the Death of Phoenix one of my favorite comic book stories of all time and one of the greatest in Marvel’s history.  So when What If Phoenix Had Not Died? was published the following year in 1981, it was one of the stories I had to read.  X-Men was my favorite title and I was eager to find out what would have happened to them in this alternate history.

What If 27 Page 1

What If Phoenix Had Not Died? begins with The Watcher providing a recap of Jean Grey’s history in the original X-Men storyline (her transition from Marvel Girl to Phoenix, mind control under Mastermind and her time as the Black Queen of the Hellfire Club, the destruction of the star D’Bari leading to the deaths of 5 billion humanoids, and the X-Men’s fight with Lilandra’s Imperial Guard leading to her death).  Six pages in, the story takes an alternate turn when toward the end of their battle with the Imperial Guard Jean saves Cyclops from a blast and alters her destiny.  Jean and the defeated X-Men are taken to the Shi’Ar imperial flagship, and their psychic lobotomizer removes her telepathic powers.

What If 27 Page 6

What If 27 Page 7

Upon their return to Professor Xavier’s School, a now powerless Jean tries to adapt to her diminished role within the X-Men.  A distress call from Lilandra leads them to a showdown with Galactus and his herald Terrax.  The X-Men, led by Cyclops are on the verge of defeat against Terrax when the Phoenix force re-manifests itself in Jean and a blast of her power relegates Terrax to a powerless human form.  Galactus backs off and the old Phoenix is back.  But eventually the temptations of the Phoenix force get the best of Jean, and the story takes a darker turn.

What If 27 Page 28

No spoilers here.  Writer Mary Jo Duffy (Power Man and Iron Fist, Star Wars, Wolverine) and artist Jerry Bingham (Iron Man, Marvel Two In One) pack a lot of drama and action into What If Phoenix Had Not Died?: Jean’s emotional roller coaster as a result of her transition from mutant to human, the temptations of the Phoenix force when her powers return, and the ensuing consequences of the darkness that consumes her.  At a whopping 34 pages, this qualifies as an event and it doesn’t disappoint.  Even as a “done in one” single issue story, the shocking fate of the X-Men is darker than most other stories of that era and stays with the reader long after the last panel.

Nowadays our copy of What If? #27 has a worn cover and the middle pages are separating from the spine, which is a testament to how much we enjoyed this story.  Ten or twenty years ago I would have kicked myself for not bagging and boarding it, but the current condition brings out the nostalgia even more.  Turning through the pages the other night reminded me of quite a few lazy days at age 8 sitting on the living room floor reading and re-reading this issue, and brought back the same excitement and emotion as it did the first time I read it in 1981.

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